Oxford students study government by way of local theater

Ben Nunnally, The Anniston Star, Ala.
·2 min read

Apr. 28—OXFORD — Two Oxford High School seniors campaigned so hard to visit the city's Performing Arts Center that they both won, their classmates decided.

Gabrielle Robershaw and Desman Threatt were two among dozens of seniors participating in the school system's annual Student Government Day Wednesday morning. Every year a set of seniors will campaign for positions in city leadership — everything from running the fire station and police department to the mayor's office and city council —and then spend about an hour learning those roles alongside the city employees who usually inhabit them.

Robershaw and Threatt had both created campaign videos hoping to win a spot at OPAC, and their classmates obliged them both, they said Wednesday in the center's theater seating.

"I even quoted 'Hamlet,'" Threatt said. "'To be or not to be,' you know."

Director John Longshore showed the teens around the historic building, explaining the remodeled decor that turned the former courthouse and jail into the city's central venue.

They got to work the controls of the fly rigging, the mechanical, moving parts that come down from the ceiling to put Peter Pan in the air and reset stage decorations. Fun facts: the "batten," the long beam that cast members and props hang from, can move up and down as fast as 120 feet per minute, but the industry standard is 35. It can also — thankfully — be set to stop itself if it hits something, such as the head of an unsuspecting person below.

The tour's last stop was a dressing room last occupied by Gladys Knight, before COVID-19 hit.

"We talked a little about the studio, took some selfies," Longshore recounted to employees who gathered to meet the students. "Desman FaceTimed her mom to show off; it was really cool."

Later in the day, the two would participate in a mock City Council meeting. Robershaw said the students would pick issues to discuss based on what they learned from the department heads.

Longshore introduced OPAC staff and gave a brief explanation of what each did, ranging from financial management to artist hospitality, marketing and booking.

Threatt said she campaigned for OPAC because she'd always been a performer, though usually for friends and family and herself. Robershaw said she had requested OPAC because she wants to be involved in theater one day, though she said her family values more stable options for her future. She'll go to Faulkner University in Montgomery after she graduates, she said, and Threatt said she will head to the University of Alabama.

"I feel honored to be here because I love the theater," Robershaw said. "It's where I've always wanted to do something."

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.